7 Tips for Editing Your Common App Essay
What comes to mind when you first think of editing? Perhaps you consider it checking that grammar and punctuation are all correct. Or maybe you consider it rearranging a couple sentences to help the flow of ideas. My answer would be that it is all this, and much more.
Editing is an integral part of the writing process. In some ways, I still view it as writing itself, rather than some entirely separate part of the process. Editing is what happens after you have your initial thoughts and ideas out on the page. You can review what your intentions were versus what was actually accomplished through the writing and you can make decisions about how to continue to adjust to bring your vision to fruition. I view the process of editing like sculpting clay. Everything that you have written down becomes the clay that you will continue to mold into its final form.
To ensure that your essay is thorough and polished, editing is a must. A first draft is rarely finished. I am skeptical of those who say they don’t need to do any editing. This is the space where you get to interact with your ideas and refine them.
I personally love the editing process. It allows me to see my work manifested in the world so I can interact with it, experiment with it, and listen to it. It is no longer abstract ideas on the page — it is coming into being. This allows it to be crafted intentionally to become what you imagined. Because the editing process is vast, here are some tips and techniques to critically engage with editing your essay.
Time and Space
One of the most important things in editing your own essay is allowing yourself time and space away from it. Trying to write and edit everything in one day, you will probably get fatigued by what it says and you’ll start to skim over what is actually written and insert your own presumptions because you’ve become so well acquainted with it. In a sense, you’re filling in the sentences and ideas without truly thinking about how they fit together. Time and space away from something helps to beat this habit. I would recommend taking at least a day between writing and editing to give yourself time away from thinking about the piece. Then, pick it up and read it. It will allow you to come to the piece with fresher eyes, and takes you into my next tidbit —
It can be difficult when engaging with your own writing to ground yourself in what it is actually saying and getting across versus what you hope it says. The only thing that is definitely real is the writing itself and how the reader encountered it. They will not be in your mind to fill in any gaps, so it is important to encounter the piece with a clear mind, or beginner’s mind, that comes without assumptions or knowledge of what it is going to say in order to approach it anew. As with my advice above, a bit of time and space can help make this easier. To engage with a clear mind, simply read what is there and engage with your piece. What is it actually saying? Does it evoke any particular emotions? Reflect on what is in front of you. Then compare this with what you hoped to accomplish. In what ways were you successful with your initial vision? Where might it need to be strengthened? Or is there something difficult and new that has come to the surface to be explored?
Writing is the act of thinking. You might learn what you are truly trying to say through the act itself. Taking an open mind to your essay after a bit of time and space can help you to realize this. Perhaps in your essay, you can sense an area that has deeper substance and much more to say, but it has only briefly been introduced. For your vision to be totally fulfilled, perhaps this means shifting the spotlight from what you thought it was to what it needs to be. I have encouraged many students I have worked with to do just this within their essays, which can take them to an entirely new level. It can become much easier to process this idea of shifting if you’ve given yourself some time away from the piece to come back to it newly to be able to more objectively assess your intention or how it has shifted.
Sometimes just reading words on a page can begin to fall flat, but as you are reading or writing, you want it to sound natural and have a fluid cadence to it. It can be difficult to always catch this when staring at figures on a glowing screen, so reading aloud is a must. This is one of the best ways in moving toward refining your essay once your ideas feel set in place. In reading aloud, you hear the weight of each word and how it flows in a sentence. If something sounds clunky or you feel lost in a phrase, it is likely a place that needs a bit of attention. Make note of these spaces when reading and make them a priority in assessing. It could be anything from a run-on sentence to a misplaced phrase. Regardless, addressing an essay until it reads aloud smoothly helps you to encounter it from a new perspective and continue refining it.
Cut It Apart
One of my favorite editing techniques is cutting apart an essay to edit it. You can do this by cutting out sentences or paragraphs, but it is good for a number of reasons. Like many of my other techniques, it is a good way to defamiliarize yourself from the piece as a whole. You can look at each sentence by itself to make sure that it reads well and does the work that you need it to. Moreover, the exciting thing about cutting it up is that you can play with the order. What would it look like if your third paragraph with the anecdote became your introductory paragraph? What if you allow your reflection to come at the end versus the beginning? In cutting up your sentences or paragraphs, you can play with the order and structure to see how different combinations change the energy of the piece. It can also help assure you that you have the best order and presentation for all your information.
Check Punctuation, Grammar, and Mechanics
Because the college application essays are also meant to be writing samples, it is absolutely vital that all errors are ironed out. Make sure that you check and double check for punctuation, grammar, and mechanics. I tend to focus on this last in the editing process, going from more global and conceptual edits to the localized and precision edits.
Third Party Readers
Whenever I am editing a piece, I welcome as many eyes as possible to read it. It can be incredibly valuable to see how others are resonating with your piece. While it can be intimidating or vulnerable to share sometimes, it is worthwhile to see what others glean from your piece. What are their major takeaways? What do they think the piece is about without you telling them your intentions? Are there any places that feel underdeveloped, redundant, or unimportant? In having more than one person read your piece and offer advice, you can also see if there is one area that everyone makes a comment on, perhaps it is more worthwhile to address than only one person nit-picking a phrase. Writing and editing is always subjective, so in the end, you get to weigh which advice feels like it is in line to help you achieve your vision.
Having additional help and advice while writing and editing can make the difference between a pretty good essay and a stellar essay. If you’d like additional assistance on your college application essays, set up a free consultation at EssaywithEase.com. You’ll receive personalized one-on-one guidance from a former admissions officer and professional writer to help you develop and refine your ideas.